The Power of Persistence

How Alex Schultz tackled every obstacle on the long road to an Emory degree

Silver Lining Playbook: Natural disaster, family tragedy, and a pile of rejection letters didn't deter Alex Schultz form becoming a physician assistant. With a never-give-up spirit, "there is always an opportunity to find something to laugh about," he says.
Kay Hinton

When an athlete is selling himself to a team, he doesn’t usually include fumbles on his highlight reel. But Alex Schultz 15AH believes that those moments are what helped him find success.

“That stuff is there as an opportunity,” Schultz says. “How you respond to it determines what kind of person you are.”

The fifth of seven children, Schultz grew up in what he calls “controlled chaos,” but his physician father’s steady reliability and the love and support of his paternal grandparents helped give him the confidence to pursue his goals. One of those was to become a physician assistant.

Before securing a spot in the physician assistant (PA) program at Emory in 2013, Schultz applied to twenty-seven PA programs in three years. He got rejection after rejection—each time working harder, taking more classes, striving to improve his odds of acceptance. Emory, his top choice, was one of only two schools that remained on his list every year, despite his conviction that it was his longest shot at the career he’d envisioned since his sophomore year of college.

Raised in Maryland until he was eight, Schultz spent his adolescence in New Orleans, moving often and weathering his parents’ divorce when he was thirteen. One constant in his life was football. He excelled as a linebacker on his high school team and was recruited by local universities. But Schultz had a goal—to return to Maryland and play for his beloved University of Maryland (UMD) Terrapins. After a year at Towson University, he was accepted as a transfer student to UMD in College Park for fall semester 2005.

Just days before walk-on tryouts for the Terrapins, Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans. Schultz’s family got out of the city, but his father’s business was damaged. It would be months before he reestablished his practice.

Although Schultz had made the UMD football team, worry over his family back home and his grandmother in Baltimore, who had been diagnosed with colon cancer, caused his grades to tank. His coaches were on his case, and he was in danger of academic suspension. The next semester, he took on extra courses and managed to bring his GPA up.

During the next couple of years, Schultz graduated form UMD and went through an emergency medical technician (EMT) program, working for a private ambulance company and volunteering with a local fire department while taking classes to bolster his resume for PA program applications.

While researching PA schools, Schultz discovered Emory’s program, which was among the top four in the country. His first six applications included both Emory and Northwestern University, where his future wife, Monica Raugitinane, was in graduate school. He got back six rejection letters. He applied again in 2011—the same year he lost his beloved grandparents just five days apart—with the same result.

Undeterred, he sent his third round of applications in summer 2012. The following January, Schultz got an email from Emory. The subject line: Interview.

“My heart dropped. It said, ‘You are invited to interview.’ I’d always told myself, if they would just give me a chance, I won’t let them down,” he says. “I didn’t expect it to be Emory.”

Initially placed on the Emory program’s wait list, in April Schultz got a phone call offering him admission.

Now a practicing physician assistant in Decatur, Schultz has finished one journey and begun another.

“Something my coach always said was, ‘You can get better or you can get bitter,’ ” Schultz says. “It just goes to show that there is always a silver lining, there is always an opportunity to get better, and there is always an opportunity to find happiness.”

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